The audiovisual world can be a complicated one at even the best of times.
Competing hi-fi brands and an ever-growing set of devices and technologies can make it difficult to know where you stand – and even professionals can sometimes have a hard time navigating home theatre! Today’s question focuses on a specific query, in relation to the cables we use to connect everything together: can coaxial cables be used as speaker cables?
What is a Coaxial Cable?
A coaxial cable is a kind of cable used for several electrical applications. Specifically, it describes a cable that transmits signals via a single copper core conductor, which is insulated by a cylinder of dielectric – or non-conducting – material that acts as an insulator.
This cylinder, comprising the core and dielectric, is then surrounded by a tube of copper braiding – which protects the integrity of the signal from external electromagnetic fields, and can simultaneously act as the signal’s earth.
Coaxial cables have been a standard for decades, with common usage in radio technology. Today, coaxial cables continue to have a variety of applications, from the delivery of cable TV to connecting line-level signals in home media systems and audio-visual installations.
Can a Coaxial Cable Be Used as a Speaker Cable?
Coaxial cables are distinct from standard hi-fi speaker cables, in that speaker cables are commonly much thinner and lighter. Speaker cables comprise two rubber-shielded copper weaves, which constitute the ‘hot’ signal and earth connection; they are not copper-shielded as they do not require protection from RF interference or other electromagnetic fields.
However, classic speaker cables and coaxial cables are nonetheless capable of serving the same function; coaxial cables can be used to supply speaker-level signals, provided they are terminated with the correct connectors for the system in question. There is no functional difference between the copper core of a coaxial cable and the ‘hot’ core of any other cable; as such, coaxial cables can be used safely in a few applications unrelated to high-frequency transmission.
What are the Consequences of Using Coaxial Cable?
There are some considerations that should be made before you use coaxial cables for your speaker system, though. For one, coaxial cables will have a thicker gauge of conducting wire than conventional speaker cables, which can increase both the capacitance and impedance of the wire. These can have tangible impacts on the quality of your signal, with longer runs of wire causing significant roll-off of higher audio frequencies.
There is also the logistical practicality of using coaxial cables for an install. Their relative bulk makes them harder to ‘hide’ in domestic hi-fi scenarios, where you may want cable runs to be disguised. They can also be difficult to run without proper cable management solutions like cable trays and ties.